Which First Kid’s Phone: Pinwheel Phone vs. Gabb Phone vs. Bark Phone vs. Troomi

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It took us a year to decide which first kid’s phone our girls would start with, Pinwheel Phone vs. Gabb Phone vs Bark Phone (late 2022) and Troomi. We wanted it to be safe for them and a great way to learn phone etiquette and how to have a phone in general. **Scroll to the bottom for a comparison table**

>>This post was updated November 2023<<

We were deciding between Gabb and Pinwheel. (Troomi wasn’t quite yet available, but I’ll share what I know) and since late 2022 we were able to test out a Bark Phone. Keep reading to find out what we’ve tried, and what we liked best. And check out the summary table further down for an quick comparison.

Pinwheel Kids Phone

We started buying one kid a Pinwheel phone as our first kids phone. We were very happy with it. In short, my favorites are, GPS location, no web browsing, no social media, whitelisting contacts, scheduled downtime, caregiver portal with call and text history, and vetted apps which they are constantly adding to.

text and call history pinwheel phone stored in caregiver console

Pinwheel service is separate from your cellular service, but that allows your Pinwheel phone to work with most all providers and you to select the cellular provider you want to use.

apps on pinwheel can only be added via caregiver console

I have a more comprehensive post on Pinwheel if you want to read more details (or shop this link to automatically have a discount added to your Pinwheel order, and use code SERIOUSTEN).

Gabb Phone

We were offered a Gabb phone to test it out for 3 months with another kiddo. Since it was the other phone we were considering originally, I wanted to test it out.

Gabb phone screen

Gabb doesn’t have social media, 3rd party apps or an internet browser. It does allow for calls and text messages (you can upgrade to group messages). And Gabb has a parent app that allows you to locate and / or ping your child’s phone.

Gabb’s rate includes cellular service with their network. So, potentially, you aren’t able to have your Gabb phone on your preferred network and you can’t add it to a family plan.

Updated July 2023: Gabb has a new parent-managed experience for phones and watches. This experience will allow parents to monitor contacts on their kids’ devices. There will be an “approved contact list” that parents will manage and approve. 

Gabb also now has even more robust filtering system flagging spam and inappropriate messages and calls. The flagged messages will show up in the parent experience where parents can approve or deny them. One of the big things we noticed with Gabb is that we could not authorize contacts. Because of this, there were a lot of spam calls and texts and some of them were borderline inappropriate. There was nothing we could do about these calls or texts. We had no way to mark them as spam or stop them from coming through to our daughter.

Gabb phone screen with messages and spam

When it comes to kids deleting messages, parents will have a few options to choose from while using the Gabb Messenger for Parents app. They can choose to allow kids the ability to instantly delete messages or, there will be an option to have messages in the trash deleted after 30 days. There is also the option to never allow messages in the trash to be deleted. Parents will need to look on the actual Gabb phone to see text history, but there is not the ability to set the phone to not allow for deleting messages. There also was no way to remotely check the call or text history remotely if you suspect some bullying, misbehaving or harmful messages. These text messages can also be deleted from the Gabb phone, so even if a parent wants to spot check messages, kids can delete them and a parent will never know.

The other big drawback for us is that we couldn’t schedule downtime for contacts or the phone in general. Phones already don’t go into bedrooms, but I like the option to schedule the phone to not be available for texting after a certain time. Kids can be sneaky, so I like to be able to remove that temptation. (As an adult, I even use screen time on my own phone to tell me to stop using it).

For us, the Gabb phone wasn’t a good fit, but I really like the idea of the Gabb Watch for younger kids and the Gabb phone might work for you and your family. If you want a 50% discount code for Gabb, use code RAYS.

Bark Phone

We’ve been testing out the Bark phone since it’s launch in very late 2022. I’m going to try to keep this to a quicker review more for a comparison then a full review of the phone.

The Bark Phone comes with the Samsung phone, a case, usb-charging cord (no brick) and a little card with a QR code for caregivers to scan to help with setting up the phone.

new bark phone cropped

Bark has a couple purchasing options. With a 2 year plan, the phone is free. If you want to forgo a plan, the phone is $199.

For younger kids, the plan is $29/month and included unlimited talk and text, location tracking, contact management, monitored text and photos, no apps, no browser and no voicemail.

For teens and tweens, plans start at $49/month (unlimited talk and text with wifi only) and go up to $89/month (unlimited talk and text and up to 35GB of data).

There is no discount if you want a second Bark Phone in your family. Also, you cannot add this to your cellular data provider/plan as the service comes with it.

bark phone location check-in

With The Bark Phone, contacts need to be approved before they can send/receive a text message or call if a parent enables “Approved Contacts Only”. Bark has recently added the ability to add emergency contacts only for downtime. Additionally, contacts can be completely blocked.

The Bark Phone does include location tracking and parents can request location check-ins. As with any GPS locator, it’s not always 100% we’ve found. You can also set locations in the parent dashboard and Bark will alert you when your child enters it, leaves it or whatever you set it to alert you to.

bark phone setup checklist

The Bark Phone allows for several ways to connect a child’s apps and accounts. You can go through them via the parent dashboard and will be prompted to have your child’s login or ask your child to login for you. The Bark Phone will alert you of accounts set up using your child’s email address.

Adults and children can work together to determine which apps they will be allowed to have as well as the uptime and downtime of those apps. Kids can request the apps from their Bark Phone and parents can approve them on their phone or on the website. Children can also request to have contact with a number, and cannot communicate with a phone number until it is approved.

There are quite a few settings to getting the Bark Phone set up. And admittedly, I felt like I was in loops a couple times and couldn’t get out of one section and into another. I’d love to see a map of all of the screens or some way to verify I’ve looked at all of them and haven’t missed a setting.

bark phone caregiver dashboard display

This is how the app looks on the parent side. You can see that we currently have 7 alerts to look at. This could be a concerning text message, a troublesome picture saved or sent, suspicious activity (or lack of activity) in an app and several other options.

Ultimately with the Bark Phone, if an adult agrees, there’s no limit to the apps that can be installed. This means the phone can grow with a child. BUT, I also think it can give a false sense of security to an adult.

If an adult agrees to add Snapchat, for example, thinking that “this is a kid’s phone, so it’s safe” know that Bark can only monitor Snapchat direct messages in text only. Or, Spotify with new features of videos added right in.

You can see the apps and how they are monitored on the Bark Phone, but I worry parents might not check exactly what is monitored. You definitely have to be vigilant even with a kids phone.

Bark Phone does allow a lot of settings and options to safeguard a phone for a child, but just like all of the other phones here, it still requires monitoring and discussions. Bark Phone is the right phone for many families. If that’s you, make your Bark Phone purchase here.

Troomi

I’ve had a chance to test out a Troomi phone (use this link to get a free phone). They use their own cellular provider. Troomi offers a couple different options with just call and text or upgrading from that all the way to having a safe browser.

Troomi phone

I do like having the ability to whitelist certain sites needed for school, but wish I could whitelist certain links. I experimented with whitelisting a specific youtube video from my kid’s coach and it allowed access to all of youtube (this is expected by Troomi, but thought it was worth sharing).

One of the things that we didn’t like is that with Troomi many of the apps only work (intentionally on their part) on WiFi. As we like to travel and our kids run cross country and some apps require communication while not connected to Wifi, we decided that wasn’t a good option for us.

Troomi parent dashboard add contacts

I like that I can approve certain contacts and there is a quick parent dashboard with location, phone info and phone usage. Texts can be viewed by parents as well.

There isn’t a parent dashboard app so it must be viewed in a browser or computer.

Troomi Discount Code:

Shop Troomi here or use code FT2-6UM to receive $50 off a Samsung A14 5G or $30 off a watch!

Pinwheel Phone versus Gabb Phone versus Bark Phone versus Troomi Phone (updated July 2023)

FeaturePinwheel PhoneGabb
Phone
Bark
Phone
Troomi
Phone
GPS LocationYesYesYesYes
Non-addictiveYesYesParent ChoiceYes
Optional Web BrowserNoNoYesYes
Addictive GamesNoNoParent ChoiceNo
App Store on Kid PhoneNoNoParent ChoiceNo
Kids Can Delete TextsNoYes/No****NoYes
Social Media (tik tok, instagram, snapchat, etc)NoNoParent ChoiceNo
Select Phone CarrierYesNoNoNo
Caregiver PortalYesYesYesYes
Image Permissions By ContactCaregiver ChoiceNoNoParent Choice
Available Schedule DowntimeYesNoYesYes
Approved ContactsCaregiver ChoiceYesParent ChoiceYes
View messages / call log remotelyYesNoYes/No*Yes
Apps are pre-approved and screened before caregiver can addYesNoNo**Yes
Any app can be installed from play store (with caregiver permission)NoNoYesNo
Ability to add Bark/monitoring across social media/apps and textsYesNoIncludedNo
Add tasks from your phone to theirsYesNoNoNo
Available Music StreamingYesNoYesYes
Family/Sibling Discount YesYesNoNo
Support accessText/chat/callEmailEmailPhone/Email
Phone Cost$199-$3291
(save with code SERIOUSTEN)
$120-$160
(save with code RAYS)
$0 with 2 year contract or $199 with no contract$199-$400
save $50 with this link
Monthly Costs$30***$25$29-$89$20-$30

1 Refurbished phones sometimes available at a discount

*Bark provides snippets of conversations that it’s AI determines concerning. But you can’t see entire conversations in caregiver dashboard

** Bark has app reviews coming soon that each app approval request will include a brief overview of the app so that the parent can quickly understand what the app is all about before allowing their kid to have it on their phone; however apps are not pre-approved by Bark.

***Pinwheel has monthly caregiver service fee $15 (first phone)/$5 each additional phone + $15 cellular service.

**** Depends on settings in Gabb Parent App.

If Gabb is right for you, use discount code RAYS to save (currently 50% off).

If Pinwheel is right for you, shop this link to automatically have a discount added to your Pinwheel order, or use code SERIOUSTEN to save 10%.

If Bark Phone is right for you, head to their site to make your purchase.

If Troomi is right for you, head to their site get a FREE TROOMI phone or eligible discount on phone or watch using code FT2-6UM.

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19 Comments

  1. what does “image permissions by contact” mean? in blog about kids phones?

    1. Hi AC-

      For the pinwheel phone, it means I can allow images to be sent/received from contacts on a contact by contact basis. If there’s a contact you are okay with text but not pictures, you can turn them off and not allow them. Or if there are 5 contacts you don’t want sending/receiving images. Or you can turn off images for everybody, and turn them on just for parents to send/receive, for example.

  2. Hi, just a comment from someone who ordered the phone directly from pinwheel from Hawaii, that it may take up to 20 days to get the phone as they ship slowwwww boat. And it may even look like it’s going to come UPS and arrive in a week, but it won’t. It’ll get handed off to USPS, and then when you look at your UPS tracking information, you realize there is another tracking number for USPS which you then check and realize the package isn’t coming for another two weeks. Considering what you’re paying for the phone, you’d think they’d ship a little bit faster, eh?
    Haven’t received the phone yet, but other than the shipping of the actual phone, I have high hopes that it’ll be a great fit for our daughter. Will keep you poste.

    1. How frustrating. I hope it gets to you soon and you quickly forget this frustration.

      I imagine mail is tricky to Hawaii, so I’d definitely give them that feedback…maybe there’s an improvement that could be made.

    1. I’d love to add it. I’d prefer to get my hands on one. But, I can try to look at the info and read about it.

  3. Which ended up being the best fit for your children?

    1. Right now, for us, we are happy with Pinwheel with our two oldest kids. I’m still testing out Troomi for our middle kid, and think it could be a good fit, but I’d like to see a couple more app options and more things available with data (they tell me this is in the works).

      1. Thank you so much! This has been so helpful!

  4. What does the “not addictive” mean in the chart above? Is this screen time limiting?

    1. Moreso, it means that there aren’t games or social media that will suck you in for hours on end. It doesn’t allow for apps that will make you forget how long you’ve been on your phone.

  5. One of the phones that Pinwheel uses is the Google Pixel 6A. Wouldn’t it be less expensive monthly to just purchase that kind of phone and add a parental control program to it?

    1. To use pinwheel you have to buy the phone from them. They install their own operating system.

      You could use another service to monitor, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

  6. Andrea Reynolds says:

    Do any of these phones have a camera?

  7. Darryl Auston says:

    Hello! Great review! We believe the Bark phone is going to work best for our situation, but I can’t seem to find information on whether group texting works with their phone. Have you come across this info in your research?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Darryl

      Group texting does work with bark, but it will depend on your contacts and how they are set up, if all are approved in the chat it comes through, if there is a contact not approved, I believe they will have to be approved before it arrives on the phone.

      Since it is an android phone, Apple group chats will have a hard time adding the number to an existing group chat, but a new group chat can easily be made.

  8. you should update your info on gabb.
    I can set my kids phones to turn off and on at certain times. I have ONLY contacted their customer service through chat. Also, they now have streaming pre-approved music.

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